Laguna de Bay tragedy: Corruption, negligence blamed for ferry sinking
MANILA, Philippines — Corruption, negligence, and safety protocol violations had combined in a deadly mix that resulted in the boat accident that claimed the lives of 27 people in Laguna de Bay two weeks ago.
That was the picture that emerged on Tuesday after a three-hour Senate hearing on the July 27 capsizing of a motorized passenger boat off Binangonan town in Rizal province.
“This [tragedy] could have been avoided,” Sen. Grace Poe told reporters.
“The [loss of lives] could have been prevented if [the passengers] had life vests… and if the boat was not overloaded,” Poe, the Senate public services committee chair, added.
Grilled by Sen. Raffy Tulfo, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Petty Officer 2 Jay Rivera admitted that he had not personally inspected MB Aya Express before it left the port in Binangonan at past noon.
He said it was the boat captain, Donald Anain, who went to his office and handed him the list of passengers, which had only 22 names.
Rivera was manning the PCG substation located just 150 meters away from where the boat had been docked before rains and winds whipped up by Typhoon “Egay” (international name: Doksuri) walloped the wooden vessel, causing it to overturn and the passengers to fall into the water.
‘You were really negligent’
“I actually checked the passenger manifest [before the boat was allowed to leave]. But I did not [perform a physical inspection],” Rivera said.
“If you had only done your job,” Tulfo told the PCG officer, “nobody would have died. You could have stopped the boat from leaving because it was overloaded.”
“You were really negligent. You should be in jail now [like Anain],” he added.
“You have the power but did not use it. Maybe we can ask you ‘how much’ was the reason [why you let the boat sail],” Tulfo said.
On Aug. 2, the PCG filed a complaint in the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor in Taytay, Rizal, for syndicated estafa against Anain, the unnamed boat owner, and several others for “fraud” and “misrepresentation.”
At the Senate hearing, the PCG Rizal chief, Lt. j.g. Arjohn Elumba, Rivera’s immediate superior, said Rivera should have approached the boat and made a physical count of all the passengers.
‘Accept the consequences of our actions’
PCG Commander Adm. Artemio Abu said he had immediately ordered the administrative relief of Rivera and Elumba following the accident.
The two PCG officers were also among those charged administratively and criminally by the Philippine National Police for their lapses, according to Abu.
“One thing is certain. There was negligence on the part of our people. We are brave enough to accept the consequences of our actions,” Abu said.
“Based on our investigation, it proved that there was negligence on the part of our personnel,” he said. “Yes, our personnel really committed negligence. It is clear that they had shortcomings. And we are aware of this.”
Anain, during the hearing, admitted that the boat had been carrying more than its allowed capacity of 42 passengers. The PCG previously said a total of 43 people had survived the tragedy.
Anain also confessed that he had no license from the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) to operate the vessel and only attended a three-day training.
Fielding questions from Poe, Anain said he only had an “SIB,” a seafarer identification book that shows the record of sea travel and service of boat captains and crew members.
“It’s like a student driver’s permit for land vehicles,” he said.
Asked by Poe why he was operating the passenger boat without the required license, Anain replied: “Because the PCG honors the SIB.”
However, Abu and Marina Deputy Administrator for Operations Nanette Dinopol both denied Anain’s claim.
Pressed by Tulfo, the boat captain admitted he had bribed PCG officers to avoid a strict inspection of the boat.
On the day of the accident, he gave bananas worth P100 and P50 cash to Rivera, he said.
An irate Tulfo questioned Anain’s claim, telling him: “Do you think we will believe… what you are saying?”
One of the survivors, John Marr Nino delos Reyes, refuted Anain’s claims that the passengers were required to wear life vests and that they were warned that the boat was already overloaded.
“In fact,” Delos Reyes said, “the boat returned to the port to take eight more passengers.”
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